Lives of the fellows

Anthony Feiling

b.30 September 1885 d.20 May 1975
BA Cantab(1906) MRCS LRCP(1909) MB BChir(1911) MRCP(1913) MD(1914) FRCP(1921)

Anthony Feiling was born at Epsom, the second son of Ernest and Joan Barbara (née Hawkins) Feiling. His uncle, after whom he was named, was the author Anthony Hope (Hawkins). Later, through his stepfather, he was connected with Kenneth Graham, author of The Wind in the Willows in which Anthony and his elder brother Keith (subsequently Chichele Professor of Modern History at Oxford) appear. He was thus brought up in distinguished literary circles.

Educated at Marlborough and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he obtained honours in natural science, Feiling came to St Bartholomew’s for clinical work. Later he studied medicine in Frankfurt. During World War I he served in the RAMC, becoming a Major and being mentioned in despatches. In 1923 he was appointed assistant physician to St George’s Hospital. He was also physician to the Maida Vale Hospital for Epilepsy and Nervous Diseases, and to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. Previously he had been casualty physician and temporary assistant physician to St Bartholomew’s as well as physician to the Metropolitan Hospital and to the Western Ophthalmic Hospital. St George’s became the centre of his professional life and he was Dean of the Medical School from 1926-1936 and later Senior Physician. From 1939-1945 he was Sector Hospital Officer in the EMS.

Although he remained a general physician throughout his career Feiling’s chief interest was in neurology. He was a founder member of the Association of British Neurologists and later its President. He was also President of the Neurology Section of the RSM, a corresponding member of the Société de Neurologie de Paris, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. In 1942 he was the Lettsomian Lecturer of the Medical Society of London with Epilepsy as his subject, and he became President of the Society in 1944. He took a keen interest in the affairs of the College and was in turn Goulstonian Lecturer, Councillor, Censor and Senior Censor.

Feiling should principally be remembered as a clinician and a teacher. He wrote little, although he was editor of Modern Trends in Neurology, author of a history of the Maida Vale Hospital, and joint author with E. Bellingham-Smith of a comprehensive textbook of Modern Medical Treatment. His period as Dean at St George’s was uneventful, but he was instrumental in securing the appointment of the first psychiatrist (Desmond Curran) to the staff of the hospital and later gave wholehearted support to the establishment at Atkinson Morley’s Convalescent Hospital, Wimbledon, of a Unit of Neurology, Psychiatry and Neurosurgery, which brought distinction to St George’s during the second world war and afterwards.

Feiling was a thoroughly sound all round clinician, and as a neurologist was highly regarded. A meticulous and accurate observer, he could quickly order his findings into a logical diagnosis with the help of what he liked to call his much abused clinical instinct. He cared greatly for his patients and was always considerate of their feelings. With a wide knowledge of every form of therapy he was willing to try anything, whether old or new, if it was in any way likely to help. A firm believer in leeches for pericardial effusion, he enjoyed instructing his house physicians to ‘write down recipe hirudines dico ad partem applice’, an exercise in Latinity which was made more memorable by his difficulty in articulating his ‘r’s. Clinical observation convinced Feiling that there was an association between lumbago and sciatica and disorders of the intervertebral disc. Unfortunately he never wrote about it, and thus denied himself credit for an important discovery.

Feiling excelled as a teacher of both undergraduates and postgraduates. Students enjoyed his idiosyncracies of speech and gesture. His examination of the nervous system was lucid and deservedly popular. Invariably punctual, he was courteous and almost endlessly patient but was once provoked to tell a particularly tiresome student that he was always a mine of irrelevant information. Sharing the weekly open neurological demonstrations at St George’s with James Collier, he developed his own dry half-humourous analytical style which contrasted strikingly with his colleague’s dramatic talent, and was far more truthful. As a Censor he was scrupulously fair and was always ready to compensate for the foibles of some of his more ruthless fellow examiners. Once, after listening imperturbably to a passionate justification of a quite exceptional zero mark in the oral of the MRCP, he remarked that the candidate had done rather well with him, and awarded an equally exceptional maximum mark: saying ‘and that just lets him go on’.

Feiling was a character. Well read and scholarly, his speech was precise and his manners impeccable. Bald from an early age, with bushy eyebrows and acquiline features, his appearance was striking, and his formal dress of morning coat - usually grey in the summer - elegant and characteristic of a London consultant of a rather earlier generation. Even in his 80s his mind was sharp and his knowledge fresh. An obituarist’s description of him as ‘mature when young and young when old’ was not unfitting. Possibly because of his innate modesty Feiling received less than his due recognition as a consultant, and is said to have regarded himself as something of a failure. If this was so it was ‘quiet failure’, unnoticed by those who knew him as a teacher, a colleague or a friend.

An account of Feiling would be incomplete without mention of his lifelong devotion to his wife, Helen, by whom he had one son. The daughter of Anthony Hope, and therefore his cousin, she undertook many activities which complemented his own and was for a number of years a forthright and influential member of the Board of Governors of St George’s and of the South West Metropolitan Regional Board. But apart from their work, both found their greatest happiness in domestic life, whether in Montagu Square or in their much loved villa at Le Touquet (damaged by the Germans during the war), or finally in their converted village school in a hamlet in the Roding Valley. Content with one anther’s society they none the less continued, well after Feiling’s retirement, to welcome friends and former colleagues, and to entertain them with elegance and grace.

MIA Hunter

[, 1975, 2, 621; Lancet, 1975, 1, 1254; Times, 23 May and 9 June, 1975, 1975]

(Volume VI, page 173)

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